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DVDs In Brief: December 23, 2009

With Avatar currently stampeding into theaters, the DVD release of the late-summer science-fiction/action sleeper District 9 (Sony) couldn’t be better timed; it serves as a superior example of the humans-as-the-real-enemy alien- invasion story, and illustrates how to slip political metaphors into escapist genre fare. It’s also nimbler and wittier, using a faux-documentary approach to track the contentious relationship between humans and the giant cricket-like creatures they intend to expel from a Johannesburg slum. In a fine lead turn, first-time actor Sharlto Copley plays the mid-level functionary tasked with serving up the eviction notices…

The closest thing to an indie hit to emerge this year, (500) Days Of Summer (Fox) might have succeeded in part because it isn’t all that indie; at its worst, the film resembles a Hollywood romantic comedy for people who prefer The Smiths to Leona Lewis. But the uneasy chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel keeps it on edge, and at moments—particularly in a wonderful split-screen sequence that weighs romantic expectations against bracing reality—the film has genuine insight into love and loss…

So Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge walk into a bar. Actually, that isn’t exactly what happens, but David Guggenheim’s It Might Get Loud (Sony) does offer the promise of a jam session featuring guitar gods from three generations. When the three finally hit the stage, it’s lamentably anticlimactic, but when Guggenheim follows them individually, he catches some fascinating anecdotes and great insights into how they mastered the six-string…

By now, the playbook for Mike Judge fans is depressingly familiar: His live-action comedies open to middling reviews and tepid box office, find an audience on video/DVD, and become cherished cult items. No telling yet whether Extract (Buena Vista) will follow the same pattern as Office Space and Idiocracy, but it definitely got step one right. Granted, the misadventures of a extract-plant manager (Jason Bateman) aren’t as immediately striking as the storylines of the other two films, but Judge remains the premier chronicler of everyday banality and stupidity…

Sandra Bullock has had an amazing year, scoring two Golden Globe nominations and two giant sleeper hits in The Proposal and The Blind Side. The only downside? She produced and starred in the almost inconceivably awful quasi-romantic comedy All About Steve (Fox), a quirkfest about an insanely irritating crossword-puzzle constructor who stalks a handsome cameraman (Bradley Cooper) after an aborted one-night stand. Steve could have been a sly deconstruction of the romantic comedy. Instead, it’s a clattering, tone-deaf disaster. Oh well. As Meat Loaf reminds us, two out of three ain’t bad.